Old Master Q

Alfonso Wong is best known as the creator of 'Lao Fu Zi' ('老夫子', translated into English as 'Old Master Q'). It is one of the most popular "manhua" ("Chinese comics"), both in its home country as well as all across South-East Asia. The antics of Old Master Q and his friends have entertained generations of readers. Wong's very visual comedy and satirical socio-cultural commentary made the series beloved among all layers of society. It inspired a colossal merchandising which cemented it as the cultural phenomenon it remains today. Still in production since 1962, it ranks among China's longest-running comics series, together with Zhang Leping's 'Sanmao' (1935). 

Old Master Q

Early life and career
Alfonso Wong (王家禧) was born in 1923 as Wong Kai-hei in Tianjin, China. He has used the pseudonyms Wong Chak (actually his eldest son's name) and Alfonso Wong all throughout his career. Wong received his Bachelor of Fine Arts at the Fu Jen Catholic University in Beijing. In 1949 he began to work as an artist for the People, a magazine in Tianjin, China. In 1957 he became an illustrator of Bible stories for a French missionary in Hong Kong. Some of his work was published in various languages in major educational magazines. He cited Friz Freleng's 'Pink Panther', Charles M. Schulz' 'Peanuts', Punch Magazine, Jean-Jacques Sempé, Paul Conrad, Bill Watterson's 'Calvin and Hobbes' and Gary Larson's 'The Far Side' among his favorite comics.

Old Master Q

Old Master Q
In 1962 Wong created his magnum opus 'Old Master Q'. The series centers around a buck-toothed and bespectacled old man named Q. Somewhat behind the times, Q still dresses in traditional Chinese clothing and cherishes old-fashioned values. He often thinks highly of himself and easily gets agitated if situations don't play out well for him. Much of the comedy is derived from his impulsive, socially inacceptable and often stupid behaviour. Old Master Q is often accompanied by a more sympathetic but also bumbling sidekick, the bald-headed dwarf Big Potato. Another good friend is Mr. Chin, a young man whose modern attitude is often contrasted with Q's outdated personality. Q also fancies a beautiful young woman, Mrs. Chan, but his attempts to fancy her never go according to plan. The character was based on Wong's own wife. The main antagonist of the series is Mr. Liu, a bald-headed middle-aged man. Over the years some critics have accused Wong of plagiarizing his characters from artist Feng Pengdi (sometimes spelled as Peng Ti or Peng Di), who created the comic strip 'Big Sweet Potato' ('大番薯') in 1938. Wong has always denied the accusation and pointed to the character Ah Q in Lu Xun's famous satirical novel 'The True Story of Ah Q' (''阿Q正傳', 1921) as his main inspiration. Another huge influence was Ye Qianyu's comic strip 'Mr. Wang' (1928).  Ironically enough even Wong's own 'Old Master Q' was not so subtly imitated by Mak Man-chung's 1970 comic strip series  'Mr. Chu and Aunt Weight'.

Old Master Q

'Old Master Q' was an immediate hit and singlehandedly revitalized interest in the "manhua" industry. After an initial irregular run in local newspaper columns it became a regular syndicated series by 1964. It inspired its own magazine ("Old Master Q's Crazy Comics", 1965), toys, stationary, electronic scales, LED lamps, insulated cups, umbrellas and lunch boxes, as well as seven live-action film adaptations, four animated ones and two TV series. Copies of 'Old Master Q' can still be found in many Chinese hairdresser shops or doctor's waiting rooms. Its success spread to the rest of Asia and translations in Europe, Latin America and Japan. Along with other well-known comic book characters, Old Master Q has his own statue in the "Hong Kong Avenue of Comic Book Stars" in Kowloon Park, Hong Kong. In August 2016 an Old Master-themed café opened on Nathan Road in Prince Edward, Hong Kong. A spin-off series starring younger versions of the titular characters also came about, named 'Young Master Q' ('Q夫子' ). 

Old Master Q (1967)Old Master Q

Much of its phenomenal success can be attributed to its simple slapstick situations. Wong was a master in visual comedy which was understandable to all readers, even those who spoke different dialects, couldn't read or - in case of foreigners - couldn't decipher Chinese alphabet. Occasionally 'Old Master Q' made use of speech balloons, but most episodes alternate between being a pantomime comic or a text comic with dialogue written underneath the images. A typical gag is told in four to six panels. 'Old Master Q' also provided a recognizable mirror of everyday life in Hong Kong. The contrast between ancient Chinese traditions and the socio-cultural changes in modern China were a recurring theme. Under the guise of being "just a funny comic strip" 'Old Master Q' could get away with daring satirical commentary. It tackled with criticism of Hong Kong's British colonial rule and the Chinese Communist government. Rather unusual for a humor comic it also addressed more serious issues such as class divisions, poverty and suicide. 

Old Master Q

Final years and death
Apart from drawing comics Alfonso Wong was also active as a painter and sculptor. His work has been exhibited in various prestigious art museums in Shanghai, Seoul, Hong Kong, Berlin, Tokio, Taipei and Philadelphia. By the 1980s (some sources say 1995) Wong retired because of health problems. He passed his work on to his eldest son, Joseph Wong, who also established a licensing company, OMQ ZMedia, based in Taipei, Taiwan to secure 'Old Master Q' 's distribution for future generations. Joseph Wong is assisted as an artist by Ronny Wuxun. Alfonso Wong moved to California, where he spent the last decades of his life fishing and creating pottery. He passed away on (Western) New Year's Day 2017 at the age of 93. 

Alfonso Wong


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